It was eerily relevant to the topic of the morning. Smoke and ash in the air, blown in from distant forest fires, was a poignant reminder of the fire and fallout from the first atomic bomb used in warfare 73 years ago.
The opening ceremony of the four-day Hiroshima-Nagasaki Observance was held Monday morning at the entrance of Lithia Park in Ashland. The focus this year was on the U.N.-sponsored Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, opened for signing by nations last year.
A crowd of about 50 people, many wearing protective face masks because of the smoke, sat in folding chairs on the lawn as Masako Cross opened the ceremony with music she played on her You Ken harp. It was her seventh year participating in the observance.
Addressing the crowd, event chair Herbert Roshschild noted the dichotomy between two aspects of the observance.
“It is a ceremony of sorrow, wondering how human beings could do such things to each other. But it’s also a ceremony of resolve, that it never happens again,” he said.
The ceremonial lighting of the flame by Estelle Voeller of the Medford Citizens for Peace and Justice was symbolic of the perpetual flame that burns at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
“It has continued to burn since 1964 and will burn until all nuclear weapons are destroyed,” she said as she lit the candle.
At 8:15 a.m., proceedings were paused for the striking of a gong by the Rev. Dakudo Michael Gavin of the Ashland Zen Center. It marked the time when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The sound of the gong had a dark timbre, and as the fading resonance radiated through the crowd, the quiet was palpable.
Gavin asked those in attendance to make a commitment to peace and harmony.
“We must be the peace we seek,” he said.
Ashland City Councilor Stefani Seffinger read a proclamation from the mayor, supporting the observance and its goals. In a moving moment, she acknowledged the horror wrought in Japan by the bomb, but noted its effects were also felt by citizens in the U.S.
“My father worked on the bomb and got radiation poisoning. I watched him deal with it until the skin started falling off his body, and then he committed suicide at the age of 47.”
Eric Sirotkin, a resident of New Mexico who also owns a home in Ashland, has made several trips to Hiroshima. He told about visiting the Hiroshima museum and how the exhibit had changed, mainly due to politics, he believes.
On his first visit, there was an emphasis on the dangers of aggression. On his second visit, the emphasis was more on banning nuclear weapons.
He lives not far from Los Alamos, recognized as the birthplace of the atomic bomb. He expressed frustration that the senators from his state, Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both liberals, voted in favor of spending billions on modernizing nuclear weapons. Of course, it meant jobs for their state.
“You don’t modernize weapons you want to destroy,” he said.
The ceremony closed with pouring water over a stone. The Rev. Gavin took the first turn, then invited those in attendance to do the same.
There is a tradition of Hiroshima survivors pouring water over the gravestones when they visit the cemetery where family members are buried.
“Those people were burning,” Cross said.
After the ceremony, people were urged to sign a petition calling for the U.S. to sign the U.N. treaty.
Despite its taking more than 70 years for international action to lead to a treaty of abolishment, Rothschild is optimistic.
“Things take time,” he said. “There have been many successes along the way — the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union), the ban on biological weapons.”
The ban on the use of chemical weapons was violated by Iraq and Syria, but breaches have been few, he noted.
To date, 59 nations have signed the treaty and 12 of those have ratified. The nine nuclear weapons nations, including the U.S., have not signed and have not indicated support. But Rothschild believes as more nations join, world opinion and pressure will have their effect.
“Realizing they are out of step with the whole world eventually will move these governments,” he said.
He hopes that a grass roots movement will not only educate people but lead to action by governments.
Rothschild, 79, is a Quaker and serves as clerk (chair) of the peace and social concerns committee of South Mountain Friends Meeting, located in Ashland. He lives in rural Phoenix.
For 40 years he has been involved in civil rights, disarmament, civil liberties and anti-war issues.
Monday’s ceremony in Lithia Park commemorating the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima is part of a four-day observance that continues through Thursday in Ashland and Medford.
Part remembrance and part call to action, the events this year focus on the U.N.-sponsored Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, opened for signing last year.
Following are events scheduled for the next three days.
Tuesday: 6:30 p.m., Medford Library, 205 South Central Ave., Medford.
Ashland-based artist Betty LaDuke will host a slide presentation of her recent trip to Hiroshima. Many of the sketches she made at the time will be on display in the community room. At 7 p.m. there will be a showing of “Hellfire, A Journey from Hiroshima.” The film is about a series of monumental paintings by Iri and Toshi Maruki, now deceased, depicting what they had seen and experienced those fateful days. The collection is known as the Hiroshima Murals.
Wednesday: 5 p.m. Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 N. Second St., Ashland.
A facilitated community conversation on nuclear danger and safety will be conducted, supported by a grant from Oregon Humanities.
Thursday: 5 p.m., Japanese Garden of Lithia Park, Ashland. (Wednesday, Aug. 8 update: Closing ceremony will be held indoors at Pioneer Hall instead of in the park due to the heat and smoke.)
On this day, the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, there will be a brief ceremony that encourages reflection on what was lost and what can be saved. It will feature the sound of the traditional Japanese wooden flute, songs by the choir of the Japanese Association of Southern Oregon, and a spiritual message by the Rev. Paula Sohl of the Ashland Congregational United Church of Christ. Attendees will be invited to float sunflowers in the pool.
Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.